Using Weblogs for Knowledge Sharing and Learning in Information
(Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering, Germany
(Centre de Recherche Public Henri Tudor, Luxembourg
(Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering, Germany
(National College of Ireland, Ireland
Abstract: There are various Knowledge Management Systems available
currently and designed to support knowledge sharing and learning. An example
of these are "Experience-based Information Systems" in the domain
of Software Engineering, i.e., Information Systems designed to support
experience management. Lately, these have become more and more sophisticated
from a technical point of view. However, there are several shortcomings
that appear to limit the input, the content of these systems and their
usage. The problems identified in this paper relate to knowledge acquisition,
learning issues, as well as to the users' motivation and trust. We introduce
an approach meant to enhance the content of the experience base and improve
learning from experiences within information spaces, namely weblogs that
are maintained during daily work and serve as input for both an experience
base and for an information element base. In order to enhance learning,
a pedagogical information agent is envisaged for retrieving suitable experiences
to be further enriched with additional information elements and produce
micro-didactical learning arrangements. In addition we consider the relevance
of motivation and trust issues. An empirical study demonstrates that using
weblogs for such an approach is feasible.
Keywords: Experience-based Information System, wiki, weblog,
pedagogical information agent, information space, micro-didactical learning
Categories: A.1, D.2, H.4, J.4, K.3
Within the Information and Communication Technologies sector, continuous
competence development is essential in order to combat the increasing flood
of information, the rapid deterioration and ageing of knowledge and to
face the continuously changing requirements for problem understanding and
In the domain of Software Engineering, software development can be considered
as a human-based knowledge intensive activity. Together with sound methodology
and technology, the success of a software project depends strongly on the
knowledge and experience brought to the project by its developers.
In the past, developers have mostly depended upon tacit knowledge. This
resulted in problems when experts left a project and new developers entered.
The tacit knowledge was not kept within the organization, and therefore
the learning curve for novice developers resulted in a significant lowering
of the software quality. Hence, Knowledge Management Systems and Experience-based
Information Systems have been developed to address the problem of knowledge
loss and to improve knowledge sharing in general. Knowledge sharing can
be seen as a type of informal learning where knowledge is imparted and
obtained unconsciously. Informal learning relates to the lifelong process
in which every person acquires and accumulates knowledge, skills, attitudes
and insights from daily experiences and exposure to the environment [Marsick
and Watkins 02].
In this paper we review the shortcomings of EbIS and propose an approach
for solving some of these problems. The approach focuses on how to motivate
people for informal knowledge sharing within weblogs and on content elicitation
from these weblogs in the knowledge acquisition phase for learning purposes.
Our empirical studies demonstrate that weblogs can actually be used as
an alternative source for enriching both the experience base of an EbIS
and for producing learning content.
The two following sections provide a short introduction to Experience-based
Information Systems, Wikis, and Weblogs.
1.1 Experience-Based Information Systems
The field of Experience Management, as a sub-field of Knowledge Management,
aims to support the management and transfer of relevant experiences. The
software system used for managing, storing, retrieving, and disseminating
these experiences is known under the name of Experience-based Information
System (EbIS). EbISs are a special type of Knowledge-based Systems (KBS)
that build their intelligent features on the explicit representation of
knowledge or experience [Tautz (00)].
Knowledge and experience. While "knowledge is the
range of learned information or understanding of a human or intelligent
information system, experience is considered to be knowledge or
practical wisdom gained through human senses, from directly observing,
encountering, or undergoing things during the participation in events or
in a particular activity" [Tautz (00)]. We
actually share the position of Stenmark [Stenmark 01]
and consider the usage of the term "knowledge" for information
stored in a computer inappropriate. Tacit knowledge can in fact exist only
in the heads of people, and explicit knowledge is actually information.
However, the terminology used in the theory and practice of KBS considers
knowledge to be information stored together with its context, and we follow
this convention throughout this paper.
There were some interesting developments striving to support lifelong
learning by eLearning integration within experience-based systems in organizations
[Althoff and Pfahl (03)] Nevertheless, they are seldom
adjusted to the learning demands of the individuals, which are very diverse,
and they encounter difficulties in quantifying factors. On one side, there
are learning demands that are growing and becoming more complex every day,
and on the other, the learning sources, similarly numerous, but not always
fit for covering the expressed needs.
Knowledge sharing, as an integral part of Knowledge Management, was
lately one of the most frequently discussed topics amongst managers and
technologists. Knowledge sharing is on everyone's lips but unfortunately
it is seldom properly translated into practice. The best way to ensure
knowledge sharing is often understood to be the acquisition and storage
of knowledge in knowledge bases, followed by countless and costless sharing.
After capturing knowledge in the knowledge base, it should have been possible
for everyone else to "come and drink from the source"- at anytime
and from anywhere.
One of the domains where KBSs and EbIS in particular as a source of
learning have been profitably implemented is Software Engineering, a rapidly
changing, knowledge-intensive business involving many people working in
different phases and activities within the product lifecycle. However,
organizations often encounter problems identifying the content, location,
and use of knowledge [Rus and Lindvall 02]. Other
problems are related to the acquisition of new knowledge, to the fact that
already stored knowledge is not suitable for learning purposes, and that
maintenance and evaluation of the already documented knowledge are not
1.2 Social Software
In this paper, we propose the deployment of content management systems
intended for both individual and workgroup use, such as wikis and weblogs,
for capturing basic information, knowledge, and experiences [Angeles
03]. We will show how the input from wikis and weblogs can be used
as a source for enriching the experience base (EB) of an EbIS and for creating
information spaces for learning purposes.
As an introduction, we present some of the concepts used in the paper.
Wikis and weblogs are software applications belonging to the social software
category - a particular sub-class of software concerned with the augmentation
of human social and/or collaborative abilities through structured mediation
A weblog, or simply a blog, is a web application which contains
periodic posts on a common webpage [Wikipedia 05].
These posts are often, but not necessarily, in reverse chronological order.
Such a website would typically be accessible to any internet user. Some
are maintained by single authors, while others have multiple authors. Many
weblogs enable visitors to leave public comments. The format of weblogs
varies, from simple bullet lists of hyperlinks, to article summaries with
user-provided comments and ratings. Individual weblog entries are almost
always date and time-stamped, with the newest post at the top of the page.
Because links are so important to weblogs, most blogs have a way of archiving
older entries and generating a static address for individual entries; this
static link is referred to as a permalink. The latest headlines, with hyperlinks
and summaries, are offered in weblogs in the RSS or Atom XML-format, to
be read with a feed reader.
A wiki is a website (or other hypertext documents collection)
allowing users to add content, but also allows anyone to edit the content.
Wiki also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website
The rest of this paper is organized in the following way: Firstly, current
shortcomings of Experience-based Information Systems are reviewed (Section
2). Secondly, we propose an original approach addressing some of these
shortcomings (Section 3).
Finally, in Section 4, we present the findings of
two empirical studies investigating informal knowledge sharing through
weblogs and wikis as an alternative to provide content for information
elements, and hence to reduce the effort of producing learning content.
2 General Shortcomings and Issues to Be Addressed
This section describes three interdependent issues related to the update
and use of experiences included in an Experience Base (EB), namely the
elicitation of new experiences, learning based on these experiences, and
issues related to motivation and trust in using an Experience based Information
One of the most difficult problems in maintaining an EB is the elicitation
and documentation of new experiences. In order to obtain the best results,
knowledge should be captured immediately after the new experience's occurrence.
To be included in the EB, the new experience must be described in a structured
way, and information on the context of the specific experience must be
also added. This is an activity that requires a lot of effort and dedicated
skills [Hellström, Malmquist, and Mikaelsson 00].
The utility of an EB grows with the amount and quality of experiences included
in it. An almost empty EB is useless, since the probability of retrieving
meaningful experiences when needed is very low.
Considering the usage of KBSs in general, and of EbISs in particular,
learning is considered to be a fundamental part of KM, since employees
have to internalize (i.e., learn) shared knowledge before they can use
it to perform specific tasks [Rus and Lindvall 02].
KBSs make the assumption that the problem of continuous competence development
can be partially solved by using intelligent retrieval mechanisms and benefiting
from innovative presentations of retrieval results. As a result KBSs focus
mainly on knowledge acquisition, storage, and retrieval and less on the
learning processes themselves, the integration with the work process, and
on the personal needs of users.
Last but not least, to motivate and to convince users to contribute
and to make use of the EB is not an easy task. Sharing knowledge can be
perceived as being short of advantages for oneself and even dangerous.
Additionally, contributing to the EB is time and effort consuming. There
is a certain resistance that has to be coped with.
A detailed analysis of the shortcomings of current EbISs based on the
literature [Hellström, Malmquist, and Mikaelsson
00], as well as on our own experience, led to the description of several
problems related to either the quality of the EB content, to learning issues,
or to psychological factors such as motivation and trust.
2.1 Issues Related to the Content of the Experience Base
The quality of the EB content is obviously a crucial point for various
reasons. Firstly, the elicitation of knowledge from experts and users causes
potential problems, since new experiences must be first identified in order
to achieve adequate coverage. If there are no triggers to draw the attention
upon recent experiences, important insights may be lost. There is no other
alternative than having individuals and teams deciding to report what might
be useful for others and finding the appropriate level of granularity -
such a task involves value judgment.
Of course, precise rules regarding when and how this should be done
can be imposed, but the decision belongs to real people. Human judgment
is subjective, and some could decide that minor experiences are important
and must be shared, while other could overlook important experiences considering
them insignificant or unreliable.
Secondly, in most systems the elicitation procedure imposes some strict
rules for including a new experience usually resulting in time-consuming
and complex tasks to be performed by people disposed to describe it. Not
only that highly structured reporting is time consuming, but there is also
a trade-off of structured report vs. flexibility: the more formalized and
standardized the experiences have to be reported, the better the retrieval,
but the lower the ability to suite the different preferences of those who
are supposed to re-use these experiences.
Thirdly, the quality of the reported experience highly depends on the
individual communication skills of the contributor, e.g., the ability to
structure the content, to formulate the experience with accuracy, and to
describe it properly according to the needs of the target audience. The
whole process is one of mediated communication: (i.e., people are leaving
messages to other people). The EbIS only serves as an intermediary. Further,
the lack of ability in coping with the ambiguity of experiences (solutions
that worked in one case and failed in others, for example) could prevent
both the contribution to the EB or their use afterwards.
Fourthly, the maintenance of the EB requires regular evaluation of all
experience packages and removal of outdated entries. Storing several contradictory
solutions for a sole problem, originating from different persons at different
points in time is a source of confusion and mistrust. The capacity to retrieve
previous related experiences exists in EbISs, but it requires time and
effort to review them. The risk of applying an outdated experience is high,
if experiences do not have an attached expiry date, and in many occasions
these repositories become a sort of graveyards - some experiences are added,
but nothing is ever thrown away. With the continually growing size of EBs,
it is difficult to keep an overview in order to connect related packages
and to avoid inconsistencies.
2.2 Learning Related Issues
Even if the EB has a high coverage and precision, the experience packages
might still be inappropriate for learning due to two reasons: the inappropriate
quality of the content for learning purposes and the fact that learning
processes are not explicitly addressed by the EbIS.
In most of the cases, Software Engineering experiences are documented
by experts with a deep knowledge of the domain. Learning from knowledge
shared by an expert raises several issues (see [Ras, 04]
for a summary). Often learners need additional information about the subject
domain, since experts provide an experience description without adding
extensive explanations of the experience itself, the conditions and prerequisites
that let the experience happen, and the experience's context. Knowledge
acquisition always depends on the existing structure of human memory. The
qualitative difference, i.e., the organization of knowledge at the experience
provider and at the consumer makes the transfer of knowledge between different
levels of expertise extremely difficult [Ericsson, Krampe,
and Tesch-Römer 93]. Another problem is that expert knowledge
is somehow "routine". This makes it difficult for experts to
document experiences appropriately and to make them reusable for others.
The utilization of an EbIS is usually problem-driven, i.e., a problem
arisen during the completion of a Software Engineering task motivates the
software developer to check for suitable experience packages and solutions
in the EB. When reusing an experience package, a developer is usually engaged
in active problem-solving while reading, understanding, abstracting or
instantiating the experience package, and trying to apply the gathered
knowledge to the real problem situation. Ideally, software engineers could
learn effectively from experiences when all four phases of Kolb's Experiential
Learning Circle [Kolb (84)] are passed: making
a concrete experience, observing and reflecting about the occurrence, forming
abstract concepts, and testing these concepts in new situations. When a
software engineer is documenting an experience for later reuse (i.e., this
is done usually by creating abstractions), he or she profits from being
involved in the situation that leads to the experience, and their own observation
and reflection about the happening. When a software engineer other than
the experience's provider wants to reuse this documented experience, he
or she will lack of specific knowledge about the event that led to the
experience, and the knowledge that results from observation and reflection.
Hence, EbIS should focus on the delivery of appropriate content in addition
to the experience package in order to support knowledge construction as
described in Kolb's learning cycle.
2.3 Motivation and Trust Related Issues
In order to use and contribute to the EB, users need to be motivated.
A variety of problems are associated with the use of EbIS, these including
the fact that sharing knowledge is perceived as dangerous if competitors
could use the shared knowledge. Potential contributors may have concerns
that they are supplying others with knowledge without any profit. Moreover,
both contributing to and consulting the EB can be seen as time and effort
consuming activities. However, incentives seem to help less than the statutory
obligation to provide feedback both during and at the end of each project
These problems are further compounded by the fact that users rarely
want to solely share their knowledge and frequently are motivated to start
by re-using somebody else's experience. In other words, it is important
to facilitate the initial usage of the system by providing a sufficient
fundament of relevant experience packages.
Finally, users might also refuse to apply an experience package, lacking
confidence in its validity. It might be unclear whether a packaged experience
is still up-to-date or whether applying it might involve a certain risk.
It is also possible that the relationships to other experiences were not
appropriately captured. The quality of packaged experiences could also
be influenced by contradictory interests: employees are much more inclined
to share positive experiences, because bringing to attention their failures
could have a negative connotation. The "not invented here" syndrome
can be another cause of reluctance in reusing experiences, and to overcome
it, there must be a shift in the culture of the organization [Rus
and Lindvall 02]. Particularly for global organizations, work-related
cultural differences related to power, individualism, or gender could also
have a negative impact.
3 Possible Approaches
In the previous sections we presented content, learning, motivation,
and trust related problems of EbISs. In this section, we are proposing
an original approach for addressing some of these issues. Figure 1 presents
the framework of our approach.
Figure 1: Framework of the approach
The attempt to capture knowledge (considered as information-in-context)
from weblogs provides contributors with the freedom and flexibility to
add whatever experiences they consider to be relevant. This also brings
about the opportunity to capture new experiences immediately after their
occurrence (1). The content of the experiences selected for inclusion in
the EB has to be later detailed and structured by a specialized team. If
considered relevant, new content will be either stored in the experience
base or used for enriching the information element base (2).
A pedagogical agent is taking responsibility for creating and providing
the user with an information space by creating micro-didactical learning
arrangements (i.e., enriched experiences with information elements) (3).
Stored learner profiles ensure the proper structuring and presentation
of information elements in the information space. An atmosphere of trust
will be supported as a result of the mutual exchange of experiences (4).
A more detailed description of this framework is provided in the following
We claim that the use of weblogs for recording knowledge is a feasible
alternative for supplying new experiences to be added to the EB and to
be used in providing content for new information elements to be added to
3.1 Experience Elicitation Related Approaches
The EM approach is typical for highly centralized KBSs. At the other
end, the alternative solution is offered by distributed knowledge management
tools such as weblogs and wikis, which focus more on interaction amongst
A possible scenario for addressing some of the problems related to experience
- complementing the EB, which is a centralized experience repository,
with less structured distributed repositories - weblogs - created and maintained
by individuals or work groups;
- through regular observation, the meaningful experiences posted in weblogs
could be identified; they could be included in the EB after being documented
and restructured by a specialized team;
- some other weblog posts or wiki articles could be identified as a source
of information elements to be extracted and stored for learning purposes.
Of course, the usage of very simple and relatively affordable software
tools for sharing knowledge available to any employee at any moment in
time could overcome some of both the technical and the psychological barriers
to sharing knowledge. However, in practice their availability is not sufficient
for changing the employees' habits or encouraging them to routinely share
knowledge. In order to support such an attitude change, we defined a special
role: that of knowledge brokers - a similar role was mentioned in
[Hellström, Malmquist, and Mikaelsson 00]. Their
task is to encourage and support the use of such distributed knowledge
repositories. They should continuously assist and support the employees
to adapt to the new situation, acting as facilitators, moderators and coaches
and providing examples, success stories and access to technical support.
The identification of experiences suitable for inclusion in the experience
base, their restructuring and documentation will be performed as before
by a specialized team, supported by the knowledge brokers. The identification
of information elements fit for learning purposes and the annotation according
to a Software Engineering domain model has to be taken over by a specialist
with a solid background in both the domain of expertise and in learning
3.2 Learning Related Approaches
The approach that we currently develop focuses on the combination of
plain experiences and information elements (IE). IEs could be term definitions,
application examples, explanations, Software Engineering principles, context
information, or information about certain persons etc. As described in
the previous section, content for IEs can be identified within weblog posts
and wiki articles. The approach aims at improving the suitability of the
delivered input for learning by embedding the experiences in so-called
micro-didactical learning arrangements, i.e., information spaces with an
experience as central element.
While usually the experience packages in EbISs are just retrieved and
presented without any further explanation, we propose to augment the presentation
with additional information elements to facilitate a better understanding
and applicability of the experience packages.
An information space is created by a pedagogical information agent.
Pedagogical agents are a special type of information agents: they put their
emphasis especially on the mediation of information by taking into account
the learning preferences stored in the learner's profile, such as preferred
learning styles, presentation modes etc. Information agents possess skills
such as retrieving, analyzing, manipulating, and fusing heterogeneous information
as well as visualizing and guiding the user through the available individual
information space [Klusch 01].
The pedagogical information agent is set off either top-down, by the
software engineer through explicit queries in the EbIS, or bottom-up through
monitoring information sources for the occurrence of particular events
(e.g., mining for specific keywords entered by the software engineer while
typing a document or writing a program).
Currently, a pedagogical information agent prototype for supporting
the refactoring process in Software Engineering is being developed [Rech,
Ras, and Jedlitschka 04]. Refactoring is a process for removing or
reducing software quality defects and thus improving the quality of software
systems. When the agent finds a defect in the code, a query is forwarded
to the EbIS to retrieve similar cases and previous experiences related
to this type of defect. The agent creates a micro-didactical arrangement
according to the learning profile of the software engineer. This arrangement
is a subset of the information space. The information space could offer
further information elements that go beyond the scope of the retrieved
experience to the user. For example, information elements explaining the
background of defect reduction or software quality in general. Such an
information space consists of several pages with links forming a hypermedia
network. The pages are composed of information elements retrieved from
the IEB. Agent technology allows us to adapt the information space dynamically
during run-time, for example, while the user is browsing through the space
and removing the defect. While the learner is accessing information elements
in the information space, the agent is observing his/her activities and
adapts the learning space and the learning profile accordingly.
3.3 Motivation and Trust Related Approaches
Encouraging people to share their knowledge has long been a subject
for discussion amongst academics and practitioners involved with the subject
of Knowledge Management. Similarly, one of the main barriers to knowledge
sharing relates to the degree to which individuals trust the information
they can retrieve from a knowledge base, as well as the extent to which
they feel their own contributions will not be misused. In a review of some
of the factors leading to successful knowledge sharing, [Hall
01] makes a distinction between "enabling" conditions that
improve the environment for knowledge sharing and the provision of "explicit"
and "soft rewards" within these environments.
One example of an enabling condition mentioned by Hall is making knowledge
sharing a key responsibility of staff. There are many ways in which this
can be achieved including the provision of proactive training and project
debriefings associated with use of an EbIS, as well as other strategies
such as mentoring and assisting users.
Hall cites a case study conducted at Citibank that demonstrated that
assigning specific responsibilities to individuals was more effective in
bringing about knowledge sharing, as compared to expecting people to make
contributions as part of a larger team effort alone [O'Dell
Providing rewards for knowledge sharing has also proved in many cases
to be an effective mechanism that can be used to bring about effective
and widespread knowledge sharing. These can take the form of "explicit"
rewards such as including in criteria for promotion and appraisal systems
the degree to which employees have submitted and shared their past experiences
within their company. In the case of "soft" rewards it may be
the case that simply identifying or highlighting users who have made a
substantial contribution to the EB may be enough, since this has been shown
to encourage others to do likewise. The number of reusers for a specific
experience package, together with a record of how these reusers rated it
could provide the basis for implementing a relatively simple and soft reward
When considering the initial stages of an EbIS it may be useful to consider
the approaches taken for launching other types of KM systems meant to support
organizations to share knowledge (e.g., [Wenger, McDermott,
and Snyder (02)] and [Waterson (05)]). These often
take the form of guidelines, principles, or heuristics and can be adapted
to fit the EbIS context. Examples of these adaptations include:
Provide content at the launch of the EbIS: Without content an
EbIS is not useful. A list of already included experience packages can
give a perspective on the purpose of using an experience base and could
help to create (initially at least) passive use. Active use is more likely
to occur when the utility of the EB was already proven.
Stage the roll-out of the EbIS and plan ahead: Another strategy
mentioned by the literature on knowledge management systems, speaks about
launching a pilot system having a minimum of required functionalities,
and planning carefully for later evolution and development. Providing too
many facilities or being too ambitious (e.g., expecting users to be active
from the start) proves to be common and leads users to visit only once
and then rarely return. Similarly, each phase of the EbIS development should
be planned; this should cover questions such as what extra facilities could
be added later. What do users require? What has proved to be less successful
Facilitating the use of the EbIS: Alongside some initial content,
the EbIS may need someone to facilitate the use and encourage contributions.
This role can be assigned to knowledge brokers. Facilitating the deployment
of an EbIS requires a lot of effort, however it pays off in terms of establishing
it [Hellström, Malmquist, and Mikaelsson 00].
Sometimes, people need help in formulating their searches in order to be
successful. Additionally, the knowledge brokers are aware of the current
content of the EB and know the people who contributed it. They can recommend
not only the best way to search for previous experiences, but also the
people who encountered similar problems and could act as experts.
Monitor and evaluate the content of the EB over time: Monitoring
the activity within the EbIS means more than keeping track of usage statistics
and profiles. It also means regularly asking what kind of problems users
encounter, and working toward solving them. Listening to the members and
not taking their views, or indeed in some cases their apparent silence,
for granted, also helps to sustain activity and establish trust over time.
Knowledge brokers should "walk the halls", trying to find
out what are the reasons for mistrust and refusal to use the EB. They should
also give feedback about weblog posts selected for being included in the
EB and about the criteria used to select them, encouraging more people
to contribute repeatedly. Regular updates of experience packages similarly
make the EB more interesting and increase the likelihood of occasional
users becoming more active. For example, long time unused experience packages
should be sent for review to the initial contributors and to the people
who tried to re-use them in time, so that they could decide if the respective
packages should be completely removed or only updated.
4 Empirical Studies
The purpose of our empirical studies was to evaluate whether informal
knowledge sharing using weblogs and wikis could be a content producing
alternative for information elements and new experiences, hence reducing
the effort involved. These studies comprised the monitoring of ten external
weblogs, and the fostering of a Content Management System (CMS) including
weblog and wiki facilities in a company Intranet.
For the analysis of entries from already existing external weblogs,
ten such weblogs focusing on Software Engineering, Knowledge Management
and eLearning were selected. During a two month-period, their posts were
monitored by using news aggregators. Posts containing meaningful information
for software engineers were retained and re-structured in order to be included
either in the EB or in the IEB. Three experts with different backgrounds
were involved in this activity.
The case study directed at using weblogs and wikis for collecting experiences
in a company intranet was also carefully planned and launched. The CMS
selected for this study was TikiWiki (http://tikiwiki.org).
The employees were given an introduction to social software allowing
rapid, flexible and "on-the-spot" acquisition of knowledge (wikis,
weblogs). They were encouraged to start and maintain personal and group
weblogs for a two-month period and to post there all the experiences they
considered meaningful for their work. Five employees started personal weblogs,
while nine other community and project weblogs were created [see
Tab. 1]. For organizing and structuring work-related content, wiki
pages were recommended.
The content of four of these weblogs was also monitored during the two
months period. The participants were provided with coaching and on-line
support. A weekly newsletter was issued in order to provide information
on social software and to maintain their interest in knowledge sharing.
Aiming at encouraging knowledge exchange, the monitoring experts also acted
as knowledge brokers for connecting the participants who shared the same
interests. Meaningful content that could be used for documenting and including
a new experience in the EB, or adding it to the IEB, was identified.
Weblogs and posts statistics: 114 out of 238 posts coming from
the ten external and four Intranet monitored weblogs were retained as serving
for our purposes.
The retained posts were counted using a) the classification of Meder
[Meder (00)], and b) a SE-specific classification.
The summary showed that these 114 selected posts contained (a) 62 definitions,
90 descriptions, 170 references, and 41 examples. We also found the descriptions
(b) of 5 products, 5 processes, 12 techniques and 14 tools.
||No of users
||No of wiki pages
||No of weblogs
||No of posts
|After 1 month
|After 2 months
Table 1: TikiWiki usage statistics
We illustrate these findings with two examples. The first example is
about a lesson learnt that was included in the EB: A specific approach
description for Test-First Programming was located in the Mistaeks I Hav
Made weblog (http://nat.truemesh.com/archives/cat_testfirst_programming.html)
written by Nat Pryce. "The problem was that I had written tests for
each method, testing pre- and post-conditions and class invariants. This
is the wrong approach to writing programmer tests. Instead, each test case
should specify a describable aspect of the functionality an object provides
to its clients. That aspect will probably involve multiple methods of the
class. As a maintenance programmer using the tests as documentation you
want to know how the behavior of those methods is interrelated, not how
each method acts individually."
This post had to be re-structured in order to be included in the EB
[see Fig. 2].
||The problem was that I had written tests for each method, testing pre-
and post-conditions and class invariants.
||This is the wrong approach to writing programmer tests.
||Instead, each test case should specify a describable aspect of the
functionality an object provides to its clients. That aspect will probably
involve multiple methods of the class. As a maintenance programmer using
the tests as documentation you want to know how the behaviour of those
methods is interrelated, not how each method acts individually.
Figure 2: Experience extracted from weblog post and prepared
for inclusion in the experience base
The post also contained a reference to the definition of Test-Driven
Programming from the C2 wiki (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki),
dedicated mostly to eXtreme Programming. The definition was also re-used
as a learning element [see Fig. 3].
|Test Driven Programming
Extreme Programming supports the use of tests as a development
tool. Given an object, the developers devise tests for all interesting
methods even before programming them. This means that:
- they are forced to define precisely what a method does
- they know where to begin writing a method
- they know when you are done writing a method
- they know the minimal scaffolding needed to run a method
- like scientists, they target reproducible results .
This means that they will recognize dependencies among the objects early,
and they will work to minimize them.
Figure 3: Learning element extracted from C2 wiki
The second example is about some learning elements identified in a post
from Bliki (http://martinfowler.com/bliki/DomainSpecificLanguage.html),
Martin Fowler's weblog & wiki. It included a description of
domain specific programming languages, directly reused as a learning element.
Moreover, we were able to extract from the post some pros and cons for
this type of languages to create another learning element. Certainly the
extraction cannot be done in an automatic way, but weblogs seems to motivate
people to make their knowledge explicit, which can serve as starting point
for knowledge elicitation. The extracted learning elements could be part
of a "micro-didactical arrangement" supporting the comprehension
of an experience that discusses the choice of a programming language for
a certain project or that reports a lesson learnt of using a certain language
for a specific domain.
Semi-structured interviews organized after the two months period obtained
feedback from eight users and included 19 questions grouped in five categories
(content, learning and motivation-related problems, usability, and possible
future developments). The interviews took on average 15 minutes. The results
are summarized here:
The TikiWiki environment had two categories of users: seven active
contributors and 19 passive readers (lurkers). Since the content was
generated without following any guidelines, it was extremely
heterogeneous containing experiences, success and failure
descriptions, research ideas, hints, tips and tricks, various links,
references and comments. Some other content, related or not to
Software Engineering, was also generated: conference announcements,
hints for current and future PhD students, food recipes etc. Because
the TikiWiki environment was only accessible from inside the company,
there was no concern regarding trust or intellectual property
problems. Contributors were more motivated by the reuse of knowledge
for personal advantage than by sharing or adding new experiences to
the experience base. A possible automation of knowledge discovery was
also discussed. The opinions ranged from "definitely not
possible" to "partial automation could be possible, but the
decision on including a post, or a page content partially or as a
whole in the EB or IEB should be made by humans".
While only weblogs were specifically monitored during our study, they
frequently contained references to wiki pages. Usually, weblog posts contain
references, but also definitions, theories, strategies that are easier
to retrieve when they are afterwards organized in wiki pages.
5 Conclusions and Future Work
In summary, we identified several problems of EbISs arising from a bias
put on technical issues and disregard, (in some cases even ignorance) of
human issues in socio-technical systems [Clegg 00].
A system that is designed to manage, retrieve, and present experience data,
but does not fulfill the organizational, social, and psychological requirements
to support knowledge sharing and learning will not get accepted by the
users and finally, due to lack of input, its results will become less and
less useful till it will be abandoned.
We introduced an approach meant to both provide the content to the
experience base and improve learning from experiences within
information spaces: weblogs serve as input for both an experience base
and for an information element base; a pedagogical information agent
retrieves suitable experiences to be further enriched with additional
information elements and produce micro-didactical learning
arrangements. Several guidelines, principles, and heuristics focussing
on user motivating user and increasing trust were presented in this
paper. Many of them have been applied during our empirical study. The
study demonstrates that using weblogs for recording knowledge is a
feasible alternative for supplying new experiences to be added to the
EB and to be used in providing content for producing micro-didactical
Besides the positive findings of our study, one important issue remains
to be solved: The activities of documenting experiences (e.g., by writing
weblogs or wikis), using EbIS, and learning within information spaces are
still to isolated from the working tasks that are performed by a software
engineer. The activities are still additional or complementary to the real
working tasks. Therefore, in the future we intend to focus on the development
of methodologies and technologies to support a closer integration of knowledge
sharing tasks and learning tasks with the working tasks. Hence we will
especially address the following research questions:
- Improving Knowledge Elicitation: How can we integrate the principle
of open and informal documentation of experiences (e.g., by wikis or weblogs)
into a concrete working task?
- Making learning more situated: How can we ensure that the created information
space suits the current situation of the software engineer (e.g., current
working task, problems to be solved, knowledge level and learning preferences
of the engineer related to the working task)?
- Enabling Knowledge Seeding: How can we extend the information space
so that additional Software Engineering knowledge is presented to the engineer
compared to the knowledge he was explicitly looking for (i.e., striving
to a more push-oriented knowledge delivery instead of a pull-oriented
In order to improve knowledge sharing between software engineers and
making learning more situated within the working environment, peer-to-peer
and agent technologies will play a crucial role. To apply these technologies,
we need more knowledge about how to describe working tasks and their surrounding
environments formally, how to observe these tasks and their progress, and
which impact delivered knowledge could have on a working task and its situation.
Dr. Gabriela Avram's work was carried out during the tenure of an ERCIM
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